Number Nine

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. —Last Thursday afternoon, Mike Pagliarulo sat inside the large room housing two batting cages under the stands of Victory Field in Indianapolis, where he serves as the first-year hitting coach of the Triple-A Indians.

Still sweating from the thick lather he worked up while pitching to the players under his watch, Pagliarulo was transported in time and place.  A native of Medford, Mass. who grew up as a left-handed hitting Red Sox fan in the nearby town of Winchester, he harked back to his recent visit to Pawtucket.

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And to the moment he first entered the batting tunnel across the hall from the clubhouses at McCoy Stadium.  Affixed to the door in the entrance to those cages is an iconic red number, outlined in blue.  The font is unmistakably that of Boston’s baseball team.  The numeral itself is synonymous with The Kid who strove to be ‘the greatest hitter who ever lived.’

No. 9.

In these parts, there’s no mistaking the number or the nicknames: Teddy Ballgame and The Splendid Splinter.   To Pagliarulo, who wore three uniform numbers during his own 11-year major league career, it holds the same meaning.

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“For me it meant my first baseball game.  I was 8 years old and went to Fenway Park with my dad and my godfather and brother, and (the Red Sox) were playing the Washington Senators,” said Pagliarulo,who donned 46, 6 and 13 in consecutive mid-80s seasons in the midnight blue pinstripes of a certain club situated in the Bronx.  “My father said, ‘You want to go see if you can get the autograph of that gentleman who’s managing that club over there.’

“It was Ted Williams.  Ever since that day, growing up just outside of Boston and going into the bleachers as a kid, Ted Williams represents the Red Sox as much as Yastrzemski and everybody else.  That’s what number 9 was.  If you were (No.) 9, you were Ted Williams.  And to see it in McCoy Stadium, you know, there should probably be many batting cages with the the number 9 on them, I’m thinking.  As much as he meant to the game and Boston.”

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